Where is tourism in B.C.'s Budget 2020? 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CLARE OGILVIE
  • Photo by Clare Ogilvie

You could be forgiven for feeling that our contribution to provincial coffers is down the list of things noted by the NDP as it rolled its latest budget out Feb. 18.

Indeed, tourism, as a piece of the puzzle that makes B.C. great, is entirely missing from last week's budget.

As a refresher, let's remember that Whistler contributes $1.37 million a day in tax revenue to all levels of government. These are dollars derived from tourist activities of all kinds.

The most recent statistics show that we have about 3 million visitors all year round, with summer becoming ever more popular as a time to visit.

Last time I checked the most recent figures (2017) for provincial tourism, they showed that $18.4 billion in annual revenue is brought in by the sector—that's a 41.3-per-cent increase since 2007. Provincial tax tourism revenue was $1.2 billion—a 40.3-per-cent increase since 2007.

The tourism industry contributed $9 billion of added value to the B.C. economy as measured through GDP. That's almost twice as much as mining ($4.9 billion), more than oil and gas ($3.7 billion), forestry and logging ($1.8 billion) and agriculture and fishing ($1.5 billion).

It takes about 300,000 people to make our tourism sector run and we need a whole lot more workers if it is going to continue to grow and support a healthy B.C. and provide a living for all of us—as the provincial government expects it to do.

Tourism is getting a bit of help through other financials outlined in the budget, such as work on highways to make travel safer and more grants for post-secondary studies, which could include hospitality programs.

When the NDP minority government was voted in in 2017, there was concern for the fate of the Resort Municipality Initiative fund paid for by visitors and shared with resorts to help fund infrastructure to support tourism. But after consideration, the province continued to support it, and in 2019, Whistler received $7.5 million. That's still tax dollars, as 40 per cent of visitors to Whistler are Canadian while 28.5 per cent are from B.C.

It was infuriating to read that no money was budgeted for regional transit, especially considering that the province said there was an operating surplus. You may recall that the province shot down local corridor governments' plan for funding regional transit last fall.

This is particularly short-sighted considering we are facing a climate crisis and recent statistics show that 20,960 vehicles a day now navigate the roadway between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish, with 12,044 between Squamish and Whistler—a 25-per-cent increase in overall traffic since 2009.

Like other small businesses, those in Whistler servicing our local and tourism clients are being weighed down by taxes, and now with the Employer Health Tax, the strain is getting noticeable.

The BC Chamber's 2019 "Collective Perspective" survey found that 25 per cent of Whistler businesses that responded were in "very poor" shape. That should be a huge red flag to this government.

Let's not forget, after all, that Whistler is responsible for an estimated 25 per cent of the entire annual tourism export revenue of British Columbia, up from 21.5 per cent in 2012.

The budget also cut marketing funds to Destination British Columbia (DBC). This was decried by the provincial Tourism Industry Association of BC (TIABC).

"...A reduction of $850,000 in DBC's annual core revenues over the next three years will affect efforts to attract domestic and international visitors and keep BC's visitor economy on a positive trajectory," the Association said in a release.

"Not having funding certainty for Destination BC means that they're susceptible to the annual budget priorities of government, making it difficult for them to commit to any long-term investments. With some signs of softening within BC's visitor economy, industry is nervous," said Alroy Chan, TIABC's chair.

Now is not the time to ignore tourism.

It will undoubtedly be impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak (Air Canada has cancelled its Vancouver-based flights to China until April), for example, and if we want the sector to continue to enjoy success and supply funds to all levels of government, then it must be recognized by all levels of government for what it provides.

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